Time to Keep Silent

To every thing there is a season…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

We all face the question in our own minds, whether to put up or shut up. Speak or be silent. Let rip or stay schtum. Our base instinct is to shout the odds at the thing that hurts and annoys us, or perhaps the person that has crossed the line we have drawn in the sand. We all wrestle with that one many times, and I think we fail wise Solomon’s measured advice.

There certainly is a time to speak out, and confront evil because Jesus tells us to beware of false teachers and prophets in the Gospels, but that is not to be used as a licence to shoot from the hip every time something or someone crosses our own personal line, opinion, or feeling.

This very dilemma troubled me recently. My initial reaction was to confront the source of my disagreement both in person and content. Fortunately, I allowed some time to pass while the issue percolated in my mind and I am glad it worked out that way. Not because I had changed my mind, far from it, because I still feel the same about the person and the problem it gives me, and most likely some other folks looking on.

In war we talk about collateral damage. Not the direct hits, or the intended targets, but the property and people who were on the edges of the line of fire. Bringing this issue up in a public arena would have affected a group of people who a) might have disagreed anyway, or b) had not seen the original problem, and now knowing it, might take their own action and walk away. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that outcome, and c) my own reputation and standing could be tainted and tarnished for all time.

The final, and most important consideration for staying silent is that it allows the person who caused my own worry and concern, to move on, and perhaps allow them to change. In His infinite wisdom, God has granted me grace when I have failed Him, so I must give grace to others. Of course, they may not believe they did any wrong, and a public outing makes any change (if it was seen as necessary) unlikely. On a personal and more human front, if the same thing happened again, I would come to another conclusion. Once bitten, twice shy as the old saying goes!

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But What?

But I came to give life—life that is full and good. John 10:10

But you refuse to come to me to have that life. John 5:40

You can’t help but ask the obvious question. Why? The leaders of the church in Jesus’ time knew everything, or at least they thought they did. They knew their scriptures inside out and back to front, and this Jesus was obviously an imposter. They could see it, and they questioned anyone else that thought differently. They never stopped being taught, even when they became Scribes and Pharisees. The trouble is they never really learned. We can see that being the case in secular life, so why not in the synagogue?

The parallel is uncannily similar today, and the question is the same. Given the promise of real, full, abundant life for free, why would anyone turn their back on it? The Pharisees couldn’t see it and today there are those who know better, both in the general church and outside it. It’s not that the gift of life isn’t offered in our day and age because it is, and the cost is the same, it is a free gift. Full life for the living is free.

We have advanced in so many ways since Jesus’ day. Science and technology have taken over, and we can talk our way out of anything. That last part hasn’t changed from the Pharisees’ day. The biggest difference today is that we may have convinced ourselves that Jesus was an imposter, or a lunatic, or a liar. Maybe a bit of all three. This is made easier since society has downgraded church and Jesus to a mere side show. When you dismiss the gospel of Jesus Christ, His life, death and resurrection, you can ignore anything He might have said. In fact, you can ignore all of the Bible as a fairy tale.

If you were offered a gift of something you wanted and needed greatly, wouldn’t you at least give the giver a chance by taking the gift and seeing if it is true? Are you so arrogant and sure of yourself that you would turn away from it without a second thought? We haven’t come very far as a human race since Jesus’ time, and I suggest we are no different today.

Why?

There is a reason behind everything we do. Nothing is random. For example, how do you deal with confused thoughts? Or decision making? Or worries and concerns? Or even issues you care about deeply like religion and faith? That’s a good place to stop for now. So, how do you deal with the doubts or questions that arise from your deep seated, long held, beliefs? It’s a big ask and no small task.

Some will involve a professional counsellor if the problem is deep enough. Some will talk to a trusted friend, and let’s face it, we all need trusted friends. It has also been known for some to call into TV or radio help shows. When you go shopping for your groceries, what do you do? I for one will make a list because I want to make sure I get everything I need. It also gives me some peace of mind because I have already given my outing to the shop, some significant thought. That makes the whole operation easier.

Similarly, my way of handling my thoughts about the things I care about is to write them down, a bit like the shopping list except on a bigger scale, and for a much more important purpose. The name for people who do this nowadays, is a ‘blogger’ and the things they write down is a ‘blog’. When the blog is complete, and is something you don’t mind sharing with others, it can be published online to one of the sites that are for that very purpose. If you are a thinker/blogger it can be a help if there are others out there who have come across the same things, or are going through it now. Those people who a add constructive comment will contribute to the level of help, support and growth needed.

I know what some are thinking. Why write it down like a journal at all? Why make it public? Are you feeling insecure? It has to be said that not everyone who reads these thoughts will think or comment positively. It’s a risk, so not done for a sense of vanity. Think about it this way, if you read a blogger’s thoughts, you are seeing into their heart. You may or may not agree or like what you read, but then again, you may read a thought you have already entertained. As I said, it’s a risk. However, for the most part the good and helpful comments will outweigh the negative and bad, so the judgement is that it is worth doing. Welcome to my world!

“You Shall Not” IS a Valid Choice

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:9,10

We don’t like to  be told not to do something, and it affects the church too. There is more to be gained by being positive we are told, and that is true too. But let’s not forget that the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 include several that say “Thou shalt not” and it would do us well to take note.

Jesus shed new light on the Old Testament commandments by telling us to Love God with all our hearts, minds and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. The old law still stands. We cannot ignore any of the ten commandments even though some might think they are too negative to be modern or helpful. The Bible is full of things we are commanded NOT to do, or be involved in, and they are there for our good. God knows the things that are harmful to us as individuals, and as a society. We would be wise to take note and act on the “Thou shalt NOT” as well as the “Thou shalt”. It’s not a pick ‘n mix faith.

Hurts You or Me More?

In the not so dim and distant past when good parents actually administered a little chastisement to their children when they were naughty, or in danger, or to teach one of life’s lessons, the parent would be heard to say, “this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you”. Perhaps you have heard those words, and perhaps you were one of those parents. And you meant it for good! Smacking your child, right or wrong? The debate continues!

Of course the offending phrase can and does apply to more than a physical smack. It can hurt us emotionally and even spiritually when as adults we find ourselves in the position of doling out an unexpected ‘correction/smack’ to another adult, even though it might be kept within our own head. This outflow usually comes in the form of a word or words to show our displeasure with things said and done by someone held in esteem, and now we think they may need to know how we feel. This will only, ever, be done after a lot of heart searching and always with a heavy heart.

The outcome, unlike with your child, is always irreversible. There can be no going back because you, the younger in authority, are telling the one(s) in greater Christian maturity and authority that you don’t accept or agree with something they have said or done. Something they see nothing wrong with, but you most certainly do! When the words are out, they cannot be taken back, and they always come with consequences.

In serious and extreme situations, this troublesome correction will mean a friendship is scarred, broken, or perhaps lost. In a church situation where the witness of the church or a person is undermined, it may result in the parting of company. I wish it could be otherwise, but because these things are usually left so late in the day, no other result is likely.

Loose Talk. Again!

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 NIV

This verse is easy to understand, although some who might stray across the line will interpret the words ‘unwholesome talk’ to suit themselves and their need to be seen as ‘normal’, or ‘one of the guys’. Unwholesome talk or street language can be separated into swearing or ‘soft swearing’ which is as loose as it comes. The ordinary man and woman who bears no allegiance to a faith has no problems with swearing.

However, I have found to my surprise and sometimes shock, there are Christians who will see how close they can come to swearing, without actually saying the words. So you find people who should know better using the abbreviation OMG, and if you raise the issue, you will be told the ‘G’ means Gosh. They must be the only folks in the world who think that way, but it allows them to be more like their friends and not an outsider.

Another one that has come across my path recently is the expletive ‘sh**t’ which is a clear replacement for the word ‘sh*t’. Any check on Google will bear this out and I believe this is known to the user, but once again its usage can make them feel closer to the edge of language, and so too their peers.

So what, I can hear you say? You have been here before, and you are right, I have. I suppose my biggest problem is that my unchurched friends don’t use this kind of language especially on social media, but I do see and hear it from those in church leadership. Leaders who are younger in years and more recent theology graduates from our leading universities. Would you not agree that more is reasonably expected from our church pastors and leaders, such that speech should be above question, suspicion, or reproach? Or am I setting the bar too high for us all, leaders and laity alike?

Perhaps I am the one who is unreasonable and out of step?

The No-No

It is said that when you are in a discussion with friends, you should never talk about politics or religion. Let’s just say I will try to heed that… but just a little, and hopefully not stray into deep waters. The reason for not speaking about these two subjects is that they can bring out the worst in us as we retreat to the safety of our little corner and shout from there. The underlying reason is quite simple really. If you don’t agree on something at the start, you will not agree at the end, no matter how eloquent the arguments are made on either side. In fact, a perfectly good friendship can be changed forever. In the hope that we will still be friends, let me take the safer of these two ‘no-nos’ and bring up the subject of politics.

The starting point is easy. In politics both sides whether left or right want to live in a better world, and so bring out their plans to make it happen. These manifestos will be identical in some points, similar in others, and diametrically opposed in a few. The trouble is that these last ones tend to be the things we want to talk about, because they are the most interesting and divisive! We are drawn like a moth to the flame. We try, but we can’t keep our mouth shut.

Now here’s the question I want to leave with you. How do you and I react when we differ greatly on a major part of the manifesto, even with our friends?? I guess for the most part, we humour them (and ourselves) and pass it over as just ‘one of those things’, and that is good. But then there are those other times when we differ (and we will) over something which separates us greatly. It’s not so easy to gloss over these ones, and so we enter dangerous ground. If we stay quiet, they will think we have come over to their way, but then if we disagree as strongly as they have made their case, we will probably say too much and jeopardise our relationship. And anyway we argue (to ourselves) we always said we should be open and honest with each other. That openness and honesty can, and will, come with a cost. And there will be more than a political price to pay.

Come to think of it, whether in politics or religion, the dangers and pitfalls are the same. There are times we must make an informed but calculated decision to speak out about those things that separate us within the Christian church, or stay silent in order to keep the peace. Either way, silent or not, there is still a high price to pay with important relationships. Maybe then the old adage is true after all. We don’t talk about religion or politics in ANY open company. The price is huge, and have you noticed that neither side is ever wrong. Bad enough when it’s politics, but unChristlike when it’s religion.